Movie cameras record changes at WTC site

Daily images over 7 years to go into 20-minute film


NEW YORK - Since late May, three 35-millimeter movie cameras have been trained on Ground Zero from atop nearby buildings, each programmed to take a picture of the vast site every five minutes, night and day. By Sept. 11, they will be joined by three other cameras rigged to do the same.

They will keep taking pictures - 288 a day - for at least the next seven years.

The planned result is an extraordinary historical record of the rebirth of the World Trade Center site, one that the effort's sponsors hope will be displayed continuously at a museum, perhaps one that emerges on the site.

Each camera will produce more than 700,000 images over seven years, but the resulting film presentation, which the producers would like to show in a room framed by six screens that would be in continuous use, would be about 20 minutes long, thanks to the time-lapse photography.

The project is the work of a Hollywood executive, an officer of a New York pharmaceutical company, a Wall Street money manager and several of their friends who have obtained the endorsement of the state, the Lower Manhattan Development Corp. and the owners of the buildings bedecked with the cameras.

"This whole process of healing and rebuilding and reconstructing is something that we might discover, 10 years from now, has kind of happened without our paying attention to it," said David Solomon, the pharmaceutical executive and co-producer of the project, in a telephone interview from Los Angeles. "But in retrospect, it may turn out to be as important as the actual events of Sept. 11."

Jim Whitaker, an executive vice president at Imagine Entertainment, the Hollywood production company, who is a co-producer of the film and its director, plans to shoot additional film with video cameras around the site to augment the time-lapse sequences with construction noise and other ambient sounds. He has also decided to undertake a parallel documentary in which he will interview, once each year, 10 New Yorkers whose lives were touched by the events of Sept. 11, chronicling their evolving attitudes.

But at its heart are the project's matrix of motion picture cameras, which will track the gradual rising of new shops, skyscrapers and a memorial on the cavernous site. With one frame per camera clicking away every five minutes, the finished film will look, when run through a projector at normal speed, like one of those eerie time-lapse films of a flower growing.

"I want it to feel almost like a meditation," Whitaker said.

Nick Wood, managing director of equity derivatives at Salomon Smith Barney and a friend and former Georgetown University roommate of Whitaker's, became the project's chief money chaser. The biggest contribution - $400,000 - came from the Aon Corp., an insurance brokerage that had offices in the World Trade Center and lost 176 workers Sept. 11. Kodak donated the film and the processing costs.

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